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We’ve all been thinking about it, and I have no qualms in stating that the community of students that has borne the brunt of the education system of our nation for the past 4-5 years, is the medical aspirants. With the entrance exam pattern changing 4 times in almost consecutive years according to the whims and fancies of the courts and the government of the day, the plight of the medical aspirants cannot be overlooked. After all, how can one be expected to score a goal if the goal post itself shifts continuously? Preparing oneself for the entrances is no mean feat and requires two years of dedicated, focused preparation. But what has been happening instead, is that students have not even got 2 months (2 weeks in some cases) to prepare themselves for D-Day, let alone the gruelling stipulated 2 years of prep that’s required.

A brief history of the NEET

For years, India had a stable pattern of medical entrance exams, the All India Pre Medical Test, AIPMT (in two parts- prelims and mains), state and private entrance exams, AIIMS entrance, JIPMER entrance etc. The chaos started in 2012-13, when the government decided to scrap the AIPMT and other entrances (except AIIMS and JIPMER) and replace them with a single National Entrance cum Eligibility Test (NEET). NEET was held in 2013, but by then, several states and private colleges had filed applications in various courts demanding the quashing of the NEET on various grounds. Somewhere in 2013, the Supreme Court in a bench headed by CJI (Retd.) Altamas Kabir, pronounced a split verdict which in effect quashed the NEET, saying that it was not in line with the principles of federalism and impinged on the rights of the state governments and other colleges. So in 2014, we were back to AIPMT (the one I appeared for) and state entrances. Come 2015, the AIPMT paper leaked and students had to endure the mental stress of appearing for a re-exam. The most pitiful is the current condition of those who have or are going to appear for the entrances in 2016. With some newfound wisdom, the Supreme Court overturned its previous verdict and not only declared NEET to be legitimate, it went a step ahead and insisted that NEET be implemented this year itself. This lead to unprecedented chaos as the verdict came less than two weeks before the AIPMT or NEET (whatever it is finally to be known as) was to be held. Application forms had been filled, admit cards issued and of course the preparations of the students were in the final stages. The CBSE (Central Board of Secondary Education- entrusted with conducting the AIPMT) expressed its inability to issue new admit cards (for students who had opted out of AIPMT in states like Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana etc., where admissions are made through state entrance exams) and overhaul the entire procedure in two weeks’ time; only to be reprimanded by the SC, which came up with the solution of conducting a second NEET sometime in July for those who missed out on the May edition. Again the states cried hoarse (over a few valid reasons which we shall get to later in the article) and forced the central government to issue an ordinance declaring that for now, the status quo shall be maintained, and the NEET shall be implemented only from the next academic year. This is where the status stands as of 12 noon, May 21, 2016 as I write this article, and the truth be told, no one never knows how it may change by the time this article reaches you!

NEET: Let’s list the pros and cons

With this brief timeline as a guide, let’s talk about the merits and demerits of the NEET. The NEET comes with a host of benefits. First and foremost, it ensures parity in the curriculum and content of the course in all parts of the country. It sets the NCERT (National Council of Educational Research and Training) textbooks as the benchmark upon which all teaching and ultimately testing is to be based. This one nation, one curriculum, one exam module, greatly reduces the confusion on the students’ part; because many state entrances followed different patterns for which the students had to rely on expensive reference books and private coaching institutions. Moreover, it it done in one go; the stress which students face while having to appear in multiple entrance exams can be easily avoided. The biggest advantage the NEET provides, is that it brings about transparency in the entrance procedure and lessens the scope of money ruling the roost in several private colleges, where admissions are seldom granted on the basis of merit alone. This explains why private colleges remain highly sceptical of the NEET, the way several politicians remain wary of a powerful Lokpal bill.

Such an efficient, meritocratic, stress free system should be welcomed, but yes, the NEET does have its share of pitfalls too. While one can summarily dismiss the concerns of private colleges, one can’t do so when it comes to issues raised by several states (my very own Maharashtra being the foremost amongst them). Their first concern is based on language. One cannot overlook that large sections of students still study in the vernacular medium in our country. If NEET (like its predecessor AIPMT) is to be conducted only in English and Hindi, it deprives a large section of students of a fair chance to compete, because all their learning is in their mother tongue or state language. The second concern is based on syllabus. Many states have their own curriculum which differs from that of the CBSE and follow their own textbooks, not the NCERT ones. With the NEET based on the NCERT alone, it means that the students of state boards could be at a disadvantage vis-a-vis their peers educated in schools affiliated to the CBSE. Another concern raised by certain experts, is that contrary to the expected decrease in stress, NEET would increase stress levels for students, as it places too much significance on that three-hour examination. Earlier if one messed up one entrance exam due to some reason or the other, he/she had a chance to make up for it in the several entrances still left. The NEET as a result, may serve as a pre-cursor to an ‘all hope is lost’ feeling among students. 

The verdict

I’m no expert, but as someone who has been through this very system, I have the following to say. While NEET is a welcome step towards this one nation, one curriculum, one exam module, with transparency and meritocracy, it still needs to be fine-tuned. Implementing it in a hurried, shoddy manner shall do more harm than good. A panel of educational and legal experts need to sit together and come up with a foolproof model which can stand the legal scrutiny of the highest order and ensure maximum benefit of the student community, test it on a sample student batch as a trial-run, and then perhaps think of implementing it nation-wide. Once the plan is ready, students need to be given a two-year time frame to ready themselves for the new system.  Even the states need to be warned to start revising their curriculum, and bridging any knowledge gaps in accordance with the NCERT, so that by the time the revamped NEET takes place, no one has any reason to complain. Moreover, the NEET must be held in all the scheduled languages so as to provide equity in opportunity to students of all vernacular languages as well. As far as the argument of putting all eggs in one basket goes, i.e. all chances in a single three-hour exam increases stress, one can ponder about whether an exam similar to the SAT can be conducted wherein the student can give the exam upto 5-7 times at his/her convenience and his/her best score be considered for admissions, which can be conducted once a year. Whatever be the case, we need a STABLE SYSTEM! 

While all this is for the authorities to implement, what can the students do? Simply keep working hard, stick to Lord Shri Krishna’s mantra of: ‘कर्मन्येवाधिकारस्ते, फलेषु कदाचन!’ (One can control his efforts, and not the ultimate result) and have faith ki kabhi na kabhi, ‘Ache din Aaenge’. All the best and don’t give up just yet! 

You can also read all about NEET and about the new ordinance passed by the Government. 

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